People experiencing homelessness may be at risk for infection during an outbreak of COVID-19. CDC has developed recommendations for homeless service providers about how to protect their staff, clients, and guests.

CDC Interim Guidance for Homeless Shelters


Share information with your staff, volunteers, and guests about everyday preventative actions they can take to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.

  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Cover your cough and sneeze
  • Encourage staff and volunteers to stay home when sick
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, countertops, etc.

Common household cleaners are effective against COVID-19.

Have supplies on hand for staff, volunteers, and those you serve, such as soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol, tissues, and trash baskets for guests who have symptoms of a respiratory illness. Plan to have extra supplies on hand during a COVID-19 outbreak.

Those who are sick should be immediately isolated from those who are not sick while staying at the shelter.

Develop flexible attendance and sick-leave policies. Staff (and volunteers) may need to stay home when they are sick, caring for a sick household member, or caring for their children in the event of school dismissals. Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff members.

Use a process similar to the one you use when you cover for staff workers during the holidays.

Most people who get COVID-19 will likely have mild symptoms and not require hospital care. It might not be possible to determine if a person has COVID-19 or another respiratory illness. If available, designate a room and bathroom for clients with mild illness who remain at the shelter and develop a plan for cleaning the room daily.

COVID-19 is more likely to cause a severe illness in older adults and those who have underlying health conditions.

Staff and volunteers at high risk of severe COVID-19 should not be designated as caregivers for sick guests who are staying in the shelter.

If you identify any client with severe symptoms, notify your public health department and arrange for the client to receive immediate medical care. If this is a client with suspected COVID-19, notify the transfer team and medical facility before transfer. Severe symptoms include:

  • Extremely difficult breathing (not being able to speak without gasping for air)
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Severe persistent dizziness or lightheadedness
  • New confusion, or inability to arouse
  • New seizure or seizures that won’t stop

Consult with us, community leaders, and faith-based organizations about places to refer clients if your shelter space is full. Identify short-term volunteers to staff shelter with more usage or alternate sites. Consider the need for extra supplies (e.g., food, toiletries, etc.) and surge staff, ensuring they have personal protective equipment.

Post information at entrances and in strategic places providing instruction on hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette.

Click here for additional resources from CDC.

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